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The Ball State Daily

The man behind the murals

Artist Eric Ward shares his journey from stick figures to sweeping landscapes

It was a blustery afternoon, but the sun was shining as Eric Ward meticulously painted a race car on the exterior of Tom Cherry Muffler on Eighth Street in Muncie. Ward’s truck was a mobile studio, overflowing with paint cans, airbrush nozzles and painter’s tape. His hands — rough and weathered — donned fingerless leather gloves stuffed with hand warmers. 

“I’ve been doing this work for more than 40 years,” the mural artist said of his tedious, yet expansive craft.  

As the Muncie native detailed a hubcap, he reflected on his journey from drawing in church to pass the time to painting car exteriors and vast landscapes on buildings and walls across the nation. 

“I was the only one in my family who could ever draw,” Ward said. “We would go to church on Sunday, and my dad would give me a piece of paper and a pencil and say, ‘Draw this,’ to keep me quiet, and that's how I started drawing.” 

Stick figures turned into pages of detailed drawings that led to commissioned work by the time he was a teenager in the mid-1970s. He free-handed with brushes and rollers before he met: the airbrush. 

The sprayer came in handy when Ward moved to Nevada to work for Circus-Circus Hotel and Casino in Reno. Hotel management told Ward about the “shiny, chrome-like exterior” at a nearby casino. They wanted him to replicate it.  

“I knew exactly what it was, an airbrush look,” Ward recalled. “So, I went to a local mall and had a T-shirt guy show me the basics. I went back to Circus-Circus and told them, ‘All I need is a compressor and an airbrush, and I can figure it out.’” 

His grand passion 

Ward’s first airbrush mural on the exterior of Circus-Circus, was 126 feet across — longer than three school buses lined up end-to-end. 

Though he began working almost exclusively as a mural artist, he had originally moved to Las Vegas to display his artwork on cars for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show. The annual event features thousands of companies’ vehicles and specialty automotive equipment for about 160,000 people. 

“Artists will kill to have a vehicle out there, and I've had three. The last one that I did was in the top 10 out of 3,000 vehicles, and it was on the stage for a day,” he said. “I'm getting too emotional just talking about it. because it's a memory that I'm never going to get back again. 

“At The SEMA Show, they bring in everybody from the nation to airbrush. And they bring in the top 30 airbrush artists — I was ranked 26th in the United States in 2012.” 

It’s more than art 

While he originally began painting as a job, his murals have taken on a higher purpose. 

“What somebody like me does … I do it to make people happy. Make people smile. I don't want to be well known anymore. I've been there,” he said. “I want to be humble. I want to be laid back and to show what I can do. I want to make people smile.” 

Before Ward moved to Las Vegas to pursue his art, he saw Muncie as “just an old school, old fashioned” town. Coming back 20 years later, Ward said the city has evolved, and he especially loves the addition of vibrant murals across town.  

“All these murals that started popping up now are brining Muncie back to life again,” he said. “, Everybody's just responding in a positive way, and that's what I'm about.” 

Ward said he has enjoyed contributing to Muncie’s murals. He especially loves when people keep him company while he paints. 

“I've had so many people come by to talk to me and talk about Tom Cherry (the founder of Tom Cherry Mufflers), and that's why I do it. I'm bringing back people's memories. And that's what all these artists have added to this town, that's what they're doing. They're bringing memories back,” said Ward, whose father worked at Tom Cherry. 

Eager to mentor 

Ward said he works hard to make customers happy, but not everyone appreciates the time, energy and expertise that goes into murals and other art forms. Ward has learned to advocate for himself and to promote mural art as a respected art form. 

“Some people take me for granted while I'm painting, ‘Can you do this, can you add that? And, by the way, I don't want to pay you any more money. Yeah. I expect that part for free because you already got the paint in your hand’ and that type of thing,” Ward said. 

Ward has also struggled to find employees and a potential successor for his business.  

“You just gotta make sure the customer is happy, and the young generation now doesn’t want to take time out to do that,” he explained. “Older guys who are slowly fading away, they're all about that.” 

He has screened several prospective artists, but Ward said they lack the versatility and patience to do what he does at the level he does it. They have the skill, though, so he continues to search for artists to employ or mentor.  

“Don't ever get old,” he said. “There's so much work out there, but I'm just getting too old for it. People my age now are passing away, and when we're all gone, the art's going to be gone. It’s a lost art.” 

Although he may be slowing down, Ward’s painting days are far from over. He completed a mural on the exterior of Matt Weyand Repairs and Renovations on Eighth Street, and Ward has multiple murals lined up with other area businesses. 

“I'd like to bring everything to life and give something back to the community,” Ward said. “That's what I want to be remembered for is stuff like that. I want to be remembered for making that person smile.” 

Connect with Ward about his work at

All Inform Muncie articles are written by students in the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication in a classroom environment with a faculty advisor.
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